31 December 2010

New day yesterday

I started to write this blog because I thought it would improve my literary skills. I keep forgetting that. Looking back (as I have been this evening, waiting for this damned year to finish) I found some really quite good writing. I also found this posting about a previous, very strange, New Year's Eve (I wonder whether she succeeded in finding a husband): and I read my Premeditated Notebook, a kind of ink-on-dead-trees precursor to a blog, which I think I stopped writing in about 2005. It is full of gems, mostly about commuting. I should do something with it - like publish extracts in this blog. Perhaps dating them to coincide with when they were written.

I was also impressed, reading that old blog entry, that so many people including me seemed so keen to see an end to 2007 - just like I feel about 2010.

This morning I got out shortly after daybreak for a 10K run down to Rowstock. It was a shame to run along a busy road when there are so many wonderful trails to use, but it was the right thing to do at the time - and I wanted to measure out a 10K course for future use, so I can follow the Murakami prescription. In fact, my New Year's Resolution goes on from his 10K per day, to include a target of 40 miles a week, a half-M distance once a week (a Sunday long run - nothing particularly unusual about that) extended to a Marathon once a month. Or more. Nancy pointed out on Facebook that I have omitted rest days, but I'll simply run slowly once a week.

My fingers were cold when I started, but eventually warmed up, and while it wasn't scenically anything to write home about it was a pleasant outing. To make up the 10K distance I had to go a surprisingly long way past the natural turn-around, but I know now exactly which telegraph pole marks the 5K-from-home point.

On the return leg, I started thinking about poetry - as one does - and in particular, for some reason, The Lords and The New Creatures, the slender volume of Jim Morrison's writings that I bought, by mail order, when at school. I considered it the height of sophistication, though I didn't like most of the poems, which didn't read like his songs sounded and which contained insufficient sex for my adolescent taste. It struck me, however, that what I am interested in writing is a form of poetry - I am keen to (I have in the past managed to) write in a manner that's as satisfying for the way in which it uses words as for what it says. And if I am writing about running, the possibilities are huge. I have, somehow, even succeeded in producing what seems to me to be very satisfying prose about intellectual property, in my Dictionary. So I'd better keep on practising. See if I can't match the quality of some of those early blog posts about runs. I think my imagination is letting me down.

That said, my Runner's World article has generated some very flattering comments - one professional novelist, when I remarked to him that it made me feel as if I were a writer, saying "You are a writer - and a bloody good one!" - and a friend expressing admiration for a few paragraphs I dashed off about a piano recital. I need to give my creative writing muscles some exercise. I have so much in my head to write about, but I rarely get round to doing much about it. Perhaps a New Year's Resolution is called for - to write a little each day, which I might add to learning a little German each day (can anyone tell me what "dann fang schon mal an" means?), making a serious attempt to learn Russian, improving my French, and learning the piano. Maybe a busy year - which means it will be all the more important to learn from this posting I read earlier about the "not-to-do" list. What am I going to resolve not to do? Procrastinate, to start with.

Happy New Year!

29 December 2010

Cadence and cascade

For no apparent reason I started humming this to myself this morning - no reason apart from it being a lovely piece of music, that is. I might equally well have chosen one of Colin's orchestral versions of Debussy's Preludes, which I have been listening to pretty well to the exclusion of everything else since Christmas Day - but that's another story.

There's hardly even any yucky slush left now, but I bet that means my regular running trails are quagmires, so I chose to stick to the road today. It was one of those days when you just have to run - I needed to burn off a lot of excess energy, partly because I didn't get out yesterday. I thought about running into Didcot to pick up a replacement radiator cap for the Subaru, but ended up driving that - 5 miles each way was perhaps a little more than I needed. And I do need to work today too. So I ran down to Rowstock and back, a tedious route and only a little over 5 miles. However, Garmin intervened and deemed me to have started in the middle of nowhere about 2 miles east of home, recording also that I had put in some impressive miles at the start - one of just six seconds. I'll have that - and the extra miles, although I'll only claim 5.14 towards my weekly total. That means I've slipped from the Murakami Average - 10K per day, as in What I Talk About ..., but I should be able to claw that back in due course, and I should still be able to make it to 40 miles this week. Probably a bad idea for a first week of serious running, but so long as I feel good ...

And indeed I do feel good. I took a few breaks on this run, including at the turn to which I had descended from Ralph Schumacher's allegedly one-time house at a cracking pace - not that the Garmin was much help in measuring it, as it still thought I was 25 minutes ahead of where I should have been. A break at half-distance seemed reasonable - and it took a while, and a couple of false starts, to get going again after that. The snow has given way to mist, one of those appalling wet grey days that so often come along in December, but at least there was no need for extreme weather equipment beyond a long-sleeve top. The p[ace was conservative for most of the way, but I managed to maintain good pose-running technique (felt good to me anyway) and when I concentrated on it to put together arms and legs (swinging the arms straight forwards and backwards) so as to look quite stylish. I lengthened my stride a bit, too, and found that felt good - so perhaps when I have been trying to pose-run I have been taking too-short strides, which might account for the curious movements of my feet as I run.

Moral: pay more attention to running style. Tune out other thoughts - difficult though that might be! A great run, though, which has left me feeling pretty tired but content. If I keep up the miles I'll be fit again fairly soon.

27 December 2010

Break on Through

A little voice, my own private running daemon perhaps, was pointing out to me that it was cold, grey, windy, and generally not a great day to go running (even if the mercury was above zero for the first time in days and the snow was starting to melt). Another daemon had already intervened when I expressed the intention to go running, and I had spent half-an-hour of valuable running time hanging pictures. I wanted to resist, but the second daemon was persuasive, and I was tired and still sore after yesterday's unexpectedly long run.

Then another voice joined the discussion - via Twitter, which is so useful for this sort of thing - and told me to get my AIG. It was exactly the guidance I had been waiting for. This, of course, is why we have mentors and coaches - so it was on with the same strange ensemble in which I had ventured out the previous day (thank goodness no-one but other runners is around to see me) - it can all go in the wash later - and off for another lap of my regular 7-mile route (recently slightly amended, making it a true seven miles).

What a difference a day makes. Where there had been hard-packed snow and ice there was now at least something for my shoes to grip on, and in many places to splash through. There was even some mud, a substance I haven't seen for a long, long time, and grass poking up through the white stuff. I still had to pick my way very gingerly along some of the paths, the ruts being filled with snow and every step a potential twisted ankle. I made it through the tunnel without falling over, and later managed the descent from the Ridgeway to Upper Farm without incident. So, not a great session - but not junk miles either, and a very important willpower exercise.

Of course, I know very well that had I maintained my resistance the AIG fairy would have been on Twitter again for sure, to call me a wuss - which can be amusing, but I wasn't going to let it happen today. No, this afternoon I was determined to break on through, and now I'm on the other side and intending to stay there ...

26 December 2010

Mr Cool

Why did I think a few inches of snow was any sort of excuse not to run? I set off this afternoon for a gentle exploratory effort - a jog, even, given the conditions, though I usually only ever jog before or after a race - and as Mr Garmin told me he was out of battery it was only ever going to be an ephemeral run: here today, gone tomorrow.

I wrapped up well, as the temperature was a couple of degrees the wrong side of zero: green hat and gloves, of course, as immortalised in Runner's World, but a fleece too, and tights (which might have been tight 12 years ago, but you know what I mean). The road outside the house is hard-packed snow along which (in a car) I crawl, foot off the accelerator, low ratio if in the Subaru (though it is suffering from the notorious Subaru overheating malaise just now, so going nowhere, hence the exciting blast to Bristol airport and back by MG this morning, the return journey with roof down and heater on full - the best way to travel). I definitely jog on that. But past the church and through the village hall car park, I thought maybe a few laps of the playing fields would meet my running needs for the day. The snow, though, was too lumpy to run on, the product of much dog-walking I suppose. So over the footbridge to the road up to the Ridgeway for some 1,000m reps, though not at the pace Rach once suggested I should be doing.

The surface gave just enough grip to enable me to run fairly confidently in my trail shoes, so I went up and back, stretched a bit, then went up and back again, and was taking another rest and stretching my soleus muscles when a couple of runners appeared from the direction of the tunnel. I invited myself to tag along with them, to which they raised no objection: they were heading for the Ridgeway, from which they would descend by our field, making something very like my regular route but in reverse. I thought I'd accompany them to where I'd already turned back twice at the end of 1,000m, but when we reached that point it felt so good I had to carry on.

The hill becomes much steeper after my turnaround point, and the surface goes from good tarmac grotty ruts, and I laboured up the climb, but I'll cope better with it after a few weeks' practice. I reached the top last of the three of us, but my new friends waited for me and we trotted along the Ridgeway exchanging notes. Then we picked our way down the slope to the tunnel - a feature lacking on this course years ago, one of my companions told me, which made the A34 a test of sprinting ability - I recalled one of my glamorous running mates in London showing an impressive turn of speed across Hyde Park Corner in similar circumstances. I was just saying how much I enjoyed the climb when I felt fit, when my feet went from under me and I ended up lying on the hard ground, laughing despite my right knee feeling rather sore.

I walked the next hundred yards or so, then we all jogged down the hill where the snow was still powdery enough to give us enough purchase, and back to the village. From the point at which I'd had in mind to do a couple more 1,000m reps I'd put in about 6 miles, proved that except for one stretch it was runnable in the snow, and made a couple of new friends. A good afternoon's work - and a great feeling of well-being.

17 December 2010

Why can't I be satisfied?

Learn something new before breakfast. I don't do it deliberately - perhaps I should go through the various foreign words of the day that come in by email or something - but there's always something new to pick up, and it will be a black day when it stops. Head fake, today: thanks to GB Trudeau, so rich a source of things that are new to me. Where would I be without Doonesbury to keep me grounded? Today, "head fake" - which turns out not to be a counterfeit West Coast psychedelic musician, but the American equivalent of a dummy, as in rugby - or in association football, I guess. Well, if the word "dummy" is available to me I won't be making much use of the American term.

Which brings me, by a route known only to myself, to "pixie dust". There's a lot of it around, and a text message from a new client, referred by a former student of mine, reminds me. It fell with the snow a couple of weeks ago, although that particular sprinking seems to have gone the same way as the snow did - got to go after that prospect again today. But, just like with head fakes, I'm in an uncomfortable zone somewhere on the western side of the Atlantic. Like most copyright lawyers, I have more than a passing acquaintance with Peter Pan - indeed, even had a client who'd written a musical version, and knew the ins and outs of Schedule 6 to the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act which was very interesting. And when I was a bairn [I'll throw that in so maybe someone somewhere else in the world will learn something before breakfast too] I used to go to the pantomime in Newcastle - about this time of year - so I had a fair knowledge of Barrie's play. Even so, it only hit me this morning that pixie dust is the Disney equivalent of what Barrie, in a different, more innocent and (in some ways) gentler age, called fairy dust.

Which I think goes to show that, as with so many other aspects of life, the pace at which the meaning of words changes has accelerated. More than that: it's not just the rate at which speed increases, the rate of acceleration itself is accelerating. That exhausts my A-level applied maths, and perhaps explains how I once scored one mark in an exam - though I think my teacher was trying to convey a message, because I recall that I had a couple of other things right too. Come to think of it, he was also the school's careers master and it was his suggestion that I should do maths A level - after he'd given me private tuition (meaning, my parents had paid him for private tuition) to get me through O-level. Nearly 40 years on, the thought suddenly occurs to me: did he hope to create more private tutoring work for himself? Unlikely, as he was a fundamentally good and decent man, unlike many of the weirdos who taught there!

16 December 2010

Song from the bottom of a Well

I felt this evening that (in the words of the song) I hadn't moved here, I just fell - into a comprehensive meltdown of the railway network - but the title was intended to refer to the announcements at Paddington station, which were utterly incomprehensible. They always are. The messages echo around Brunel's great shed, and it seems that the announcers merely shout more loudly into the microphones to try to overcome the deficiencies of the equipment. Years ago, there was a female announcer with a delightful soft Irish accent, who pronounced everything with perfect clarity: now it is not merely useless as a means of disseminating information, it is worse, because it drowns out attempts to engage railway staff in conversation.

Not that there were many railway staff in evidence at Paddington today anyway. Two on one of the customer information desks, besieged by passengers ("customers") trying to find out where they might be able to get a train, and when. The reason was a power failure in the Didcot area which had put out the signalling, from about 2.30 this afternoon. I eventually asked a gentleman in railway uniform whom I found on a platform, and he was remarkably forthcoming: his colleague was even able to translate the words of the man down the well, and guide me to platform 13 where a train was about to leave for Reading. There I changed to an Oxford train and eventually arrived at Didcot - not quite four hours after leaving the office. At least once ensconced in a railway carriage (even a cool one) I could doze, and (again in the words of the song) indulge in pleasurable fantasies. Thank goodness I got a good day's work in first.

A trip like that would have been bad enough on a summer's evening. Today the east wind came blowing back in, not with Siberian temperatures but bringing the thermometer crashing down and swirling snowflakes around - which haven't settled anywhere. Nowadays railway stations are not spaces in which people are encouraged to sit and wait, of course - the train operators believe their own information about late running trains, which no-one in the real world does. No, passengers are expected to spend their waiting time engaged in that most important of modern occupations, shopping. At least at Paddington there were the options of eating and drinking: at Reading most of those places were closed, and the waiting room bursting while a coffee bar stood empty and locked next door and refugees huddled on the platform wrapped in whatever they happened to have with them.

And it seemed such a promising day. I'd even thought I'd have to run to the station this morning to deal with an excess of energy that had me bouncing off the walls and ceiling. In the end, I put on a suit (needed for the party I was due to attend this evening but which eventually had to be sacrificed in the interest of getting home), then found that my one pair of black shoes at home were still in need of a clean after an evening in the slush of Westminster a couple of weeks ago, and that they shared a single lace between them. On top of that, I didn't merely cut myself shaving, I slashed my chin, and left for the station wearing suit, tie, trainers and sticking plaster. So maybe by that stage the day had started its descent.

12 December 2010

Shouting in a Bucket Blues

I have a lot to smile to myself about at the moment, but Twitter has given me one that needs to be shared. An account that I administer: I had a few requests to follow it, which I granted, and politely (I believe it's the done thing) followed them back. One of them a philospher ... a real living, breathing, thinking philosopher - and he replied:
So you're following me... and I'm following you? Does anyone know where we're going? Never mind, let's enjoy the journey for a while...
Twitter came up in conversation several times yesterday at the Writers in Oxford Christmas party. Why use it? One of our colleagues in that organisation has done fantastic politically important work with it, but I know of only that one example. A series of Tweets yesterday involving two of my friends mystified me, and my Social Media guru explained that it's all about the number of mentions one gets (or, more importantly, gives) - Twitter Juice, I guess, like Google Juice. The ultimate triumph of media over message, then. It doesn't matter what I put in the Tweet so long as it mentions @someone. I now understand - within its limitations - what #ff is all about. A formula guaranteed to create far more traffic than one can ever read? Just a numbers game?

At least when someone asks me what Twitter is for, I now have the perfect philosphical answer. Perhaps I'm wrong to call it futility, and I am indeed enjoying the journey - enjoying a few journeys at present, wondering where I'm going ... not a bad state of mind.

Some beautiful and poignant turns of phrase in this great song ...

03 December 2010

Blackberry trackball stuck? Try this simple solution

My blog post on how to replace the water pump drive belt on a Nissan Micra has proved a remarkable success, so here's another technical tip that might help someone. Yesterday my Blackberry (a 9000 Bold, I think, though I don't bother myself about details like this - it's not something I could get attached to, like a sports car) stopped scrolling down. Not for the first time - but on this occasion it wouldn't come free no matter how much I tried to move it.

I called in at the Orange shop at Paddington Station, where unusually I received little practical assistance (they have happily charged my phone for me a couple of times). I was simply advised this time to phone customer service, which I did, and they sent a new one which has just arrived ... but I'd already fixed the problem, at least temporarily, and this (after that long preamble) is what I want to share with you, gentle reader.

If you can't move the trackball with your finger, use a bit of sticky tape. Not only didt get sufficient grip on the trackball to move it past whatever was making it stick - it also picked up some of the junk that was causing the problem in the first place. I'll never know now how permanent the fix is but when this new phone does the same trick I'll know how to fix it.

Ce qu'a vu le Vent d'Est

On a cold December night - the heaviest early snowfall for some 30 years - the pianist stepped onto the stage. The applause, as he took his bow in his evening suit, white shirt and black bow tie (made up, not tied, the adjuster gleaming in the audience's sight) was thinner than he might reasonably have expected, but as the staff member behind the bar - where did his accent place him? It seemed German - explained, there had been many cancellations because of the weather.

Being an English audience, they had carefully taken their assigned seats in the hall, so the fifty or so hardy souls present were scattered across the hundreds of chairs at their disposal. He lowered himself onto the piano stool, endeavouring to extract what dramatic effect he could from this mundane act, and the stool squeaked under his unexceptional weight. He raised his hands, and borought them down on the keyboard: the audience might have found the dissonances remarkable in such a piece, but if they did they didn't let on, and John Ireland's London Pieces unfolded in front of them. At the end, they applauded as convention dictated (though even without convention, they would have recognised the brilliance of the playing and the quality of the composition), the pianist stood, turned to face them, smiled, bowed, and resumed his seat (squeak!) To play a Chopin sonata.

At the end the same protocol was followed, and the audience made its way to the bar, from whence it returned twenty minutes later for the pianist to recite five of Debussy's Preludes. The Submerged Cathedral was further engulfed by what sounded like the wine bottles emptied at the interval being consiged to a nearby bottle bank, and the piano stool's protests continued from time to time throughout.

The audience, careful not to applaud inappropriately, lacked the collective confidence to mark the end of the fifth of the Preludes, so the performer had to launch into Poulenc's Suite Napoli without the encouragement of an ovation. Having added the Improvisation No XV (Hommage à Edith Piaf), he received the applause that was his due, and duly encouraged returned for a couple of encores.